The moment I decided to write this post, I knew that it was going to be a massive one. I love worldbuilding. It’s probably one of my favourite aspects of both writing and roleplaying! The ability to create an entire world to play in, and then see how other people interact in it or want to help you improve it. From the obvious things like the planet and the countries to the more detailed areas like the people and their cultures, there’s so much that can be done. It’s both overwhelming and exciting.
I’ll admit, worldbuilding is something that comes easy to me. I’m not saying that to show off, but collecting resources for this post made me realise how easy I find it to just sit and daydream about worldbuilding. Then all of a sudden, I have notes upon notes of a whole pantheon of gods. True story. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t need resources or to research or anything like that. Research is so important, as is where you’re getting your inspiration from. And I’m hoping this post can help a little bit with that. We might be building a fictional world, but it’s still informed by what we know of the real world. In a workshop for Wired25 back in 2019, N.K Jemisin said:
Even though we’re telling stories about fiction…we’re trying to get the basic facts of science, the world and people right.”N.K Jemisin, Wired25 – Full Video Here
And this statement couldn’t be truer. It’s not just that our worlds have to scientifically make sense, which they do, but it’s that the cultures and everything on them has to too. We get so many stories inspired by mythology and ancient cultures, but that makes sense because it means we have a starting point to work on. There’s no harm in that, and I’d even encourage it some extent. Just make sure to colour it with multiple aspects from that culture, not just a few obvious things that everyone knows. It’s also worth speaking to people from that culture too if you’re writing a modern one. You’ll want to avoid offensive and inaccurate tropes whilst making this new culture your own. The research is a necessary evil, but it’s one that can be inspirational too.
I did a blog post on these guys a few years ago now. I’ll be honest, as much as I love the site itself. I never remember to update it. It’s useful and I nearly constantly have one of the pages of mine open in a tab on my mobile browser. That way if I get asked questions about magic I can answer quickly. But my world is now horrendously out of date and putting effort into updating it when I have notes elsewhere….
Yeah, not happening any time soon.
But I stand by what I said before about it being useful. Even if you just look through the templates. They can help you get a good idea of what you need to be thinking about. And it does give you somewhere you can store all your notes and then easily share them with people. It is a pain that you have to pay if you want more than one world or to keep them private. But, really, no one is likely going to go looking through your world unless you share it with them.
The thing about WorldAnvil is that it’s not just a site to store your information. They hold worldbuilding events, there’s prompts and tips and guides and so much more.
It’s not even just the main site itself. There’s also a Youtube channel where there’s video guides, prompts and conversations. And there’s a podcast that gets uploaded a few places including Spotify too. It’s not updated hugely often, but it is incredibly fun and informative to listen to. Some of the podcasts are up in video form on Youtube too. And those are ones that aren’t uploaded to the actual podcast sites. Little weird but means there’s plenty of material. These podcasts tend to be with a variety of people. Some are just writers and game creators, but there’s also professors and other professionals in their fields. It’s a whistle-stop tour into these topics as the episodes are only an hour-long, but it gives you enough that you find out what you want to look more into.
I love WorldAnvil and all the content they provide. They always get me thinking about what I want to do, and it gets me out there doing further research myself on things I wouldn’t have thought to look up before. I highly, highly recommend checking them out.
Workshops and Worksheets
In the pandemic environment, I don’t actually mean going out to attend workshops or anything. But you can find plenty of things online. At the top of this post, I quoted N.K Jemisin from a workshop she did for Wired. The video is online, and I’ve linked it up there. She talks a lot about why realism and diversity are important. It’s one thing to know that your world is basically a historical France, but what does that mean the weather and climate are like? What sorts of plants will you see? Is there a lot of rivers? These are all aspects you might not think you need to think about unless they come up, but they can help you build an understanding of your world. Your forest-dwelling tribe are more likely to live somewhere that they can hide in a dense forest than an area where there are fields dotted within the trees. Makes sense, see?
N.K Jemisin has talked a lot about worldbuilding. A quick google and you can find more stuff. It’s definitely something worth looking into.
I also stumbled across a creator called M.D Presley. They have a book on worldbuilding and a second part that was on sale in the Kindle store for 77p. That second book includes an interesting preface and a lot of questions to think about when it comes to worldbuilding. But they also have a website where you can download a couple of free worksheets as well as a lot of other resources. You’ll find that here. I’ve not tried the spreadsheets myself. But I am eager to go through the questions in the mini book I bought.
I bet a few of you groaned when you saw me including this.
But when it comes down to it, Tumblr can be a good resource. There’s plenty of ways to find inspiration, and it can be easy to share what you want and ask for help if you need it. From a cursory search of the term worldbuilding I found a post on architecture including materials and information on traditional architecture from different countries/cultures. A post suggesting different ways your creatures can differ in thinking and perception from humans. And a blog with tips on writing diversely including a lot on worldbuilding.
And this was all from one quick search. I saw a lot of prompts people can use in there now, and there’s definitely plenty of blogs on the topic. Writeblr can be a fun thing to scroll through, so it’s definitely a useful resource. Just make sure you double-check any facts you find if you think they might be a little questionable.
I just wanted to end this post with a few suggestions of things you could do to help yourself out.
The obvious one is to use Pinterest for inspiration. But another one is to use Google Maps. Street view is a thing so you can explore places you’ve never been from behind your screen. It’s obviously not as good as visiting these places yourself and getting to explore. But if you’re stuck for ideas and you are writing something set in a different place, or inspired by a different place. You can check it out that way and maybe make plans to visit when you can.
If you’re looking for a place to start with your history research, then might I suggest the podcast You’re Dead To Me? It’s billed as a podcast for people who either don’t like history. Or don’t remember much from school. But I’m a history buff, and I’ve learned a lot from it so it really could be a good place to start. You get historians who are experts on a topic talking about the certain topic with comedians, and it’s just so easy to listen to whilst doing other things. You get to learn stuff, but it doesn’t feel like you’re learning stuff. It’s so easy to fall down the rabbit hole of just listening to them but I would recommend avoiding the radio edits and just listening to the full things. You need the conversations in their full glory.
There is also this fun world generator if you want a random map to start worldbuilding off of. It’s a lot easier than the whole spill rice, and that is the shape of your country or world suggestion. Though you can do that too. You don’t need to use every part of it. My friend cropped some of a map, sketched over it and made it into a new one for our larger world. It helped her layout countries and things without having to worry about them not looking realistic. There are also inn generators on there among other things, so it could be a fun site to explore.
I hope you found at least something on here useful. Let me know if you did and feel free to suggest your own resources too!